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Discussion Starter #1
Okay, here's the request: Many of us either starting or just getting back into the whole sax thing get confused about (arguably) the most critical piece of the saxophone, the mouthpiece! I know there are all makes, shapes, models and materiel (almost as many as the different opinions about them!) I'm not looking for that "magic MPC" that will turn me into the world's greatest saxophonist (although it would be nice if it was that easy but I digress...)

What I am looking for is a very basic understanding of mouthpieces in general and how they are labeled! What makes the $200 hard rubber mouthpieces so great as opposed to a $20 plastic one? How do you know the difference? What about a "professional" mouthpiece? What makes it so and how do they get labeled? Is it better to go with manufacturer MPC's (i.e. Selmer C* with a Selmer) or go for a different lablel and more importantly, why?

So that I can be better informed and so that I'm not wasting my time "reinventing the wheel," how do the labels work on more open MPC's vs more closed ones? I see someone talking about a B3 and I wonder how it compares to an M7 or a D4 or even a C*!! The point is there is no obvious point of reference to go on! As the alphabet goes up, do the MPC's get more open or visa versa? How do **'s compare with numerals?

Yes, the info has probably been disseminated throughout the last 63 pages of this particular forum but (at least for me) it is a bit like trying to decypher heiroglyphics without a Rosetta Stone! I'm just looking for a basic tutorial that beginners, newbies, and returnees (like me) can use as a starting point so that we can do our own research in a much more efficient manner! Thanks in advance!
 

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Might as well be asking about women:

Some are very open, some not so much, some have long faces, some have short ones, some have nice curves, some not so much, some are expensive, some are cheap, some offer no resistance, some are hard to play, some sound like velvet, and some are screamers. And most lie about their sizes.

Good luck trying to pin this one down. :bluewink:
 

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might as well be asking about women:

Some are very open, some not so much, some have long faces, some have short ones, some have nice curves, some not so much, some are expensive, some are cheap, some offer no resistance, some are hard to play, some sound like velvet, and some are screamers. And most lie about their sizes.

Good luck trying to pin this one down. :bluewink:



best quote of the year!!!!!!

Thanks for putting a smile on my face.
 

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Those are reasonable questions. Let me take a preliminary stab. Remember, though, that mouthpiece choice is highly personal, and what works for some (or even many) may not work well for you. The bottom line is how it works for you.

Higher priced mouthpieces generally use higher-cost materials, and have more hand-finishing. So instead of just being popped out of a mold and stuck in a box, it will likely have significant hand work done on it. As with most things, this theoretically should result in a finer, better-working product. But some "pro" level mouthpieces have notoriously iffy quality control, such as newer Meyers, Links, and Berg Larsens.

The ways to tell the difference are by price (iffy), reputation (almost as iffy), looking at it (even rails? flat table? good facing curve? this more reliable, but potentially meaningless), or getting it checked out or worked on by a good refacer (good but more expensive). The best way is to play it.

Having something labeled "pro" or "student" is largely meaningless, especially if it is labelled that by the manufacturer. It just becomes marketing puffery. Just ignore that.

There does not seem to be any compelling reason to match the manufacturer of the mouthpiece and horn in most situations. The choice of mouthpiece not only needs to work with the horn, but with your style of playing, the reed you are using, and your mouth and ears. Because it has to work primarily with you (how you blow, the shape of your mouth, the sound you want to hear, the style you want to play) the match between you and the mouthpiece is the most important one. Since there is only one you, no one else can tell you the best mouthpiece for you (although they can give educated guesses as to which ones might work well for you).

The numbering/lettering systems for tip openings are not directly comparable. Some folks have published comparison charts. If I recall correctly, the Jody Jazz website has a particularly good one: http://www.jodyjazz.com/facings.html. Looking at that will generally show you how things compare.

Also, some mouthpiece numbers/letters refer to the chamber size (i.e. Rico Graftonite B5) as well as tip opening, while others refer to the baffle height (Berg Larsen 110/2) as well as the tip opening. The Theo Wanne website has a bunch of info about mouthpiece configurations: http://www.theowanne.com/mouthpieces101/Campus.php.

If you can get to a store with a good stock of mouthpieces you can try, that is the best. Then you can start to home in on what works best for you. Because that is the bottom line. Good luck and have fun!
 

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My humble input: labels don't mean a thing neither anyone's opinion of a piece but yours. You gotta try them.
 

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If you cannot judge a book by its cover, why is it there?

OP - I applaud your attempt to figure out whether some unifying code exists. Given that it doesn't a good starting place is to post your level of experience, the sound that you hope to produce, your budget, and ask for recommendations. Sometimes you might get lucky.

G'luck and welcome!
 

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The proof of the pudding really is in the eating. We all crave data, probably because that is the stock in trade of these here global innertoobz, but at the end of the day, all the data in the world can only get us in the broad vicinity of where we want to be. From there, as the deli man said, it's "taste 'n try before you buy."
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for some excellent answers both here on the forum and through pm's! What I have is a Selmer USA Mod. 162 and what I am doing with it is getting reacquainted with the alto sax after being away from it for 20 years. I was primarily a baritone sax player through high school and college. I used the school's sax (which happened to be a new Selmer Mark VI w/low A and which had a Selmer C* mouthpiece so I really saw no need to even look for something else.) I was cash strapped so I just used the C* for everything. I was aware of metal jazz mouthpieces but had never tried one.

Now, my boy is learning sax and I am working with him. I have a tenor, a C melody and an alto at present. I am playing with the church's "orchestra" (which is a band accompaniment to the contemporary worship service. I have gotten bitten by the sax bug again (I don't know...perhaps it's a mid-life crisis reaction but I'm really enjoying playing again!) I may play in the community band and if I improve enough, I may be able to play in the pit orchestra for the community theatre. The point is that I understand that there are all kinds of mpc's and that I really need to try them to know what works for me but here's the crux: I have been a Selmer man all my life and it just seemed natural to want a C* mouthpiece. After all, it always worked for me on the bari and it does on the tenor! Unfortunately, it doesn't work very well for me on the alto or at least it doesn't seem to want to work as well as a Yamaha B4 which I picked up cheap!

Now, maybe, you can see my confusion. The C* is a more expensive and (by almost all accounts) a much better mpc than the cheap Yamaha B4 so why does the B4 work so much better? I guess I was looking for some kind of uniformity and rationale for labelling mpc's! (*Sigh*...women huh? Heh....that's a good analogy!) Just to be clear, I have played the sax since I was 10. I played all through school and for another 10 years I occasionally played. I'm not completely new at this but I also never really immersed myself in it until now. Thanks for all of the wonderful advice. It's really helpful!
 

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I was actually working on something similar along with a guide to nice setups under $100. I could finish it if you'd like. There is of course the big disclaimer stating that mouthpiece, ligature, and reed selection is very personal.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
With all due respect to everyone's opinion, I really do believe that something like a tutorial is very much needed! I understand that it's a very inexact science and that it's a very personal thing (I keep getting this image of Ollivander telling Harry Potter that, "The wand chooses the wizard!") but there has to be at least guidelines or something otherwise we might as well just listen to what others say work and then spend $$$ purchasing mouthpieces until we find our "grail"! As to finding a store that would let us take a brand new mouthpiece out of a box, put a reed on and then slobber all over it deciding if that is the "right" one (okay, I'll admit that was waaay over the top! I should have just said "play"), I live in Kansas where the nearest decent music store is 100 miles away. I have a store in town but they only special order mouthpieces and don't want to order 6-8 mouthpieces in the hope that I will find one I like and they don't let me take them for a "test drive!" It's a real dilemna! I have an alto Selmer C* that is virtually new but which I am less than impressed with. I'm going to hold on to it as it gives me much more resistance than the Yamaha 4C. Perhaps, as I progress, I will improve to the point where the C* will appeal to me more.

In any case, having somekind of tutorial "roadmap" would give me a starting point for doing the research as to choosing a proper mouthpiece. I would very much appreciate your finishing the project! Thank you for your efforts!
 

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This is more for your son than you, but I think that the best approach is to stick to "standard" brands and models, at least until you have a good grounding in the sound you want to create. This means, IMHO, Meyer for alto and Otto Link for tenor (in a jazz or pop context) and Selmer (in a classical context).

The reason I say this is that the basic design of these pieces is the most likely to give a good, all-around sound that is flexible and and relatively easy to produce. The problem of course is that Links are notoriously inconsistent these days. Same is true for Meyers. And Selmers ain't so hot either...

Regarding your question about the Yamaha mouthpiece being better than the Selmer - it's down to consistency. For some reason, it's easier to produce a cheap plastic mouthpiece that has a well-formed facing curve and flat table than it is to produce a hand-finished hard rubber piece with the same characteristics.

Frankly, the best thing you can do for yourself and your son is this - buy a good middle-of-the-road mouthpiece (Meyer or Link, depending on which saxophone type, as above). This will run around $75, give or take $20. Given you favor the C*, choose a 5 opening (Meyer) or 5 or 5* (Link).

Then send that mouthpiece to one of the many fine refacers here, and ask them to do a cleanup. You will pay the about the same for the reface as you did for the mouthpiece, but the end result will be a piece that you can use for the rest of your life.

It pains me to say this - but this really is the best way to get a good mouthpiece. It's really a shame that Babbitt and Selmer have fallen so far from the heights of artistry that they used to occupy.
 

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The bottom line is that you can have all the specs you like but if the piece doesn't have a well-finished facing, you're hosed.

The good news is that you can send a mouthpiece with good potential (correct interior) to a mouthpiece technician for either adjustment or refacing.
 

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There are several tutorial sites out there and a few books, but none of them will tell you everything you want to know in one spot. It is a moving target. The basics are the same but there is not universal agreement on everything. If you read enough, you will see some consensus patterns.

Woodwind Mouthpiece Selection by Bob Scarff presents the basics in a humourous way. But everything he has in his book is available on this forum if you invest the time in surfing it.

http://www.amazon.com/Saxophone-Mouthpiece-Selection-Bob-Scarff/dp/B000M60Y44
 

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Steve - Just in case Mojo's signature line is too subtle, he's one of the guys that could make your Selmer C* play much better if that's the path you choose.
 

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Yup, I spent $$$ trying to find the "right" mouthpiece for tenor. Most I bought used, at reasonable prices, so if I didn't like them, I could resell them for minimal loss. Others I bought new from WWBW, who lets you return the ones you don't like for a minimal charge.

The idea of buying a "standard" mouthpiece and having it refaced is also a reasonable approach, as that way you know it is not too extreme and that it is set up right. But the refacer is likely to ask how you want the mouthpiece to sound or play, and if you don't really know, you are likely to ask for something that may ultimately not work for you, no matter how good it is. (Yes, I did this too.)
 

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A lot depends on the type of sound you're looking for, and to a lesser extent, on the type of music you want to play. If you're a relative beginner, or in your case returning to the sax after a long lay-off period, your best bet might be to practice for a while using the C* until you get your chops up a bit. Until you do that, it will be hard to make any informed choice in a mpc.

Here's a quick and I'll admit largely useless, over-generalized, tutorial to give you some idea of what you're dealing with (discalimer: I'm not a mpc designer; these are my observations based on mpcs I've played):

As others have pointed out, in terms of how well the mpc plays (very important of course), a good facing is essential. You can get that if you buy a 'higher end' mpc from a reputable mpc maker, or by having a mpc worked on by a refacer.

First the two extremes:

Large chamber, low rollover baffle, small tip size = fat, dark sound, less 'cut' or edge, and less volume.

Small chamber, high baffle, small to moderate tip size = shrill, thin sound, lots of edge, easy to attain high volume (but at the cost of sounding like scratching on a blackboard).

If you don't want either extreme:

Large or medium chamber, low rollover baffle, moderately large tip = fat, relatively dark, warm sound, with some edge when pushed, and reasonble volume/dynamics.

Large or medium chamber, medium-high rounded baffle, moderatedly large tip = fat, warm sound, somewhat brighter with more edge and volume when pushed.

Large or medium chamber, higher 'step' baffle, larger tip (to balance out that high baffle!!) = loudest/boldest sound with edge when pushed, brighter sound but still with some warmth due to the larger tip opening.


The 'balance' between chamber size, baffle size, and tip size is very important and a good mpc designer knows how to work with those parameters. You have to try a few different comininations to find what works for you. Also the length of the facing has something to do with how the mpc plays/responds, but I'll let someone else try to explain that factor.

edit: I should add that all these concepts apply whether or not the mpc is metal or hard rubber. In other words, there is no difference in sound between mpcs of different material if they are the same design.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Yes! That's a bit more what I was looking for! In fact, I have distilled all of your suggestions down to a two-hour research session and now have a much better grasp of where I am, what I am looking for and where I am going! Many thanks gentlemen!
 
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